The Jerry Cole Tribute Show and how I came to be there: I just posted the video of my performance at the Jerry Cole memorial show which was held at the LA Baked Potato a few months ago and it’s placed me in a reflective, stream- of-conscious state of tumbling memories. My stand-up and lyrical improvisation can be seen on the video and although technically the sound leaves more than a bit to be desired, if you listen close (ear phones help), you’ll get the idea and should enjoy the show. Performing is one thing…what got me to the point of being there is another. Being there to honor the memory of my friend was a long road and I’d like to share a few of the highlights of the trip. For me to do that…we have to step into a flash back mode… Once upon a time… Janet (my wife) and I were living in Las Vegas. One night in 1978 I was invited by my friend Cork Proctor, one of my comedic idols, to accompany him to the MGM Grand to catch a singer and comedian by the name of Donnie Brooks…Ah…excuse me… I must digress…I told you this was “stream of conscious”… I said Cork was one of my “comedic idols”. He still is. To see him on stage when he’s on a roll is a thing to behold…It’s not that he doesn’t have tons of set material…he does…but he rarely uses it. He doesn’t need to. Not when he can walk out on stage, have something catch his attention that sparks something within his vast store of eclectic knowledge and then… watch out! Instant killer routine. I was performing in downtown Las Vegas at the Four Queens one night and as usual was closing with my signature improvisation. I had already thanked the band and was about to wrap up my show when from out of the darkness a huge moth flew across the stage and my face. I reacted by plucking it out of the air in mid-flight. Trust me. No one was more astonished than was I. Hmm…OK…so there I was in front of all those people with a huge moth in my hand. What to do? Well…the band was still playing so I improvised a lyric something to the effect of, “Everyone and thing should be free.” I released the moth into the light… it took flight… and…when I tell you that the crowd erupted with a spontaneous burst of applause and a cheering standing ovation that still echoes and reverberates to this very day…cross my heart…and hope to…and as I made my way off stage and floated into the club… feeling oh, so smug and full of myself for having created this…this...incredibly magnificent and magical theatrical moment out of a chance encounter with a wayward moth…when… I was confronted by Cork…who put his hands on my shoulders…looked me dead in the eye… and said… ”I can’t stand a guy who uses fucking props!” Anyway, Cork told me he had heard a lot of good things about this guy Donnie Brooks and…wow…talk about living up to a rep! Donnie put on a dynamite show. Not only was he a great singer who did all his hits like “Mission Bell” and “Doll House”, but he was also funny as hell. He knew every classic joke that ever was and had a great sense of play and timing and without question he was one of the most confidant and out going performers I ever had the pleasure of knowing. We became immediate and fast friends. The stories I could tell you about Donnie could literally fill a book. (But since this is a “blog” and not a “book” I’ll try to marshal my thoughts.) He was one of those larger than life characters and just the act of writing this sentence unleashes a flood of recollection…we shared road trips, countless shows, nights of black jack, laughter and… a few fights (the most memorable in the main room at Bally’s with a few drunks after a Mac Davis show) and…hell…you get the idea…we were tight… It was through Donnie that I first met (among so many others) Jerry Cole and one other great talent…Al Wilson. Al was one of those performers who just never, ever missed. He was nothing if not a perfectionist and it showed in every aspect of his work. From the individualistic sound of his voice to his great choice of material to the way he dressed and carried himself. Al was text book showbiz and the kind of act that others in the business could look up to as an example of what to do right on stage. At one point in the late eighties or early nineties (It’s late and I’d have to look it up), Donnie hired me to write scripts for two shows. The first was at Bally’s and was called “The 30th Anniversary of Rock n’ Roll”. It was pretty much a straight ahead variety show with Donnie as the MC/host and a cast of r&r acts like Mitch Ryder & Leslie Gore & the Tokens & the Rivingtons & Bobby Day and of course...Al Wilson The second was at the Las Vegas Hilton and was called “The Super Hop.” This one was an entirely different matter. “Super Hop” was a full blown musical comedy with a terrific band and dancers and it had a ”Back to the Future” kind of feel. What a cast! Brandon Scott played the part of a guy who puts a coin in a slot machine, wins a T Bird only to discover that the “T” stands for Time machine” and is transported back to a malt shop in the Fifties where, with the help of the owner played by Al and a spinning magic juke box, he meets his all time favorite rock ‘n roll stars like Donnie Brooks, The Diamonds, The Chordettes, and Wolf Man Jack… When Al first saw the script he got real nervous and said he wasn’t sure if he could pull it off…I told him, “Get over it. You’re perfect. Just do it.”…man…the first day of rehearsal rolled around…Al walked in…not only did he know his own lines…he had memorized the ENTIRE script! Like I said…the guy was a perfectionist and the show was a hit. Jerry Cole was the musical conductor for both productions as well as the oh, so, many shows that he and Donnie and Al and me along with so many talented others played in almost every venue you can think of. From trade clubs to conventions and private dinners and parties and arenas and stadiums and theaters to Fairs and bars and clubs and main-rooms in Las Vegas and Reno…Jerry provided the musical glue that held it all together. He was a superb musician and guitarist who was proficient and comfortable playing in every style imaginable with credits for his recording dates reading like a Who’s Who in Showbiz…from Nancy Sinatra to the Beach Boys to Roger Miller to a ton of surf records as well as being the musical director for the TV show, “Hullabaloo” and…hell… do yourself a favor and “Google” this guy and see what you come up with…a lot! Matter of fact, while you’re at it…look up Donnie Brooks and Al Wilson, too…there are worse legacies to leave than music that makes you feel good! During the time I knew Jerry, I had a fair amount of work writing special material for corporate-world clients like Mobil Oil and Prudential Bache and Lipton and BMW, etc. and there were occasions, when budget would permit, I would hire him to help produce these various recording projects. The way it worked was… I would write the songs and then play them for Jerry. Now, I’ve been playing guitar since I was seven years old and…with all due modesty…I ain’t that bad…and Jerry would listen…take my guitar…immediately play it back with his vast improvements and technique…smile…and say…”Is that what you meant?” Yeah, Jerry…that’s what I meant. And I mean this too…guys like you and Donnie and Al were very special people. Thanks for the friendship. Thanks for the laughter. Thanks for the music. Ari Dane
©Ari Dane 2004
Eleven o'clock on a cold Valentine's Day night. Time to hang it up and crawl into the preheated comfort of our electric blanket, perchance to dream and then, "That was our last cigarette..."
Hmm, one more reason to quit. O.K...so I put my Valentine's card where my mouth was and silently bemoaned the fact I didn't have another trick up my sleeve like the last time she announced I could either go to the store or clean the barbeque grill (an odious task she knows I particularly hold in disdain) and...hee, hee, hee...boy, was she surprised when I opted to clean the grill because, as I later revealed...hee, hee, hee...I had already cleaned it the day before...hee, hee, hee. But, alas, I was out of maneuvers in this particular game of marital chess and, what the hell, since it was Valentine's Day, I re-dressed, braved the night, started humming "Smoke, Smoke, Smoke That Cigarette", drove the few blocks to the Chevron station and pulled up, not next to the pumps, but rather in front of that small cinder block, bunker-looking building of last resort euphemistically referred to as a mini-mart, turned off the ignition and eased out between the door and the ten-feet-tall display of leftover wilting bouquets, candy, cards, banners with pictures of hearts and Cupids, and dozens of purple and red balloons all proclaiming “Happy Valentine's Day!”
Considering the hour and amount of available merchandise, I assumed this particular attempt to cash in on the holiday spirit had not been what you might term a resounding success. Then again, what do I know? Maybe it was their second or third batch. After all, it was Valentine's Day and, according to rumor, there's an awful lot of romantic people in Burbank.
I took my place at the end of the line of waiting customers, stood witness to and was duly impressed with the be-turbaned and thickly-accented East Indian clerk as he handled each transaction in a polite, smooth and efficient manner, attending to change, receipts, and punching in the appropriate instructions to the pumps outside, all within what seemed but a scant moment: a good- looking African-American fellow dressed in a shiny double breasted suit, black turtle neck sweater, shaved head, gold earring, and movie star sunglasses plunked down twenty dollars for fossil fuel, turned to leave then quickly spun around, produced another five dollar bill and purchased a pack of Juicy Fruit gum; a young mother in torn jeans, old sweatshirt, hair in curlers, and two cranky little kids in tow purchased fifteen dollars worth of gas, Snickers, Mounds, Mars candy bars and a six-pack of Pepsi (no wonder the kids were cranky!); a biker used his credit card to fill his Harley; and yet another guy, obviously on a frantic last minute mission to impress some young, waiting object of his fancy, with an armful of flowers, candy, cards, and purple and red balloons all of which proclaimed "Happy Valentine's Day” from the aforementioned display.
As his last Valentine's Day sated customer headed out the door, the clerk turned his attention to me. I placed my money on the counter and said, "I'll take three packs of Kent Kings, please."
He reached up to the shelf above his turban, filled my order, rang up the purchase, handed over the sack and change and apologetically said, "Here you are, sir, I am most sorry for the delay."
"No problem and, by the way, I must compliment you. That was terrific the way you handled all those transactions. Most people can't deal with that much information. I was watching. You didn't miss a beat."
With that, he stepped from behind the counter and accompanied me the few feet to the door where, in full view of the Valentine's Day display, he replied in his sing-song accent, "Oh, yes. I have always taken pride in the fact that I can deal with many things at the same time. Many, many things. Sometimes, ten, twelve, thirteen, fourteen different things. I keep track of them all. I always pay attention. I always pay attention."
I made my way around the wilting bouquets, candy, cards, banners with pictures of hearts and Cupids, and dozens of purple and red balloons all proclaiming “Happy Valentine's Day” to my car and said, "I thought you did really great. Have a good night."
And that’s when he smiled, waved farewell and called after me, "You, too, sir! Happy Halloween!"
By Ari Dane
Did I know the man well?
Not in number of years
Still, well enough to share laughter and tears
We’d toast glass of wine
Swap some lies and some truth
With a twinkle in eye he’d spin tales of his youth
The man was all class
Musicians might say,
“That cat is a gas!”
None of us knows
What lies 'round the bend
Today we miss Ocho
We all miss our friend
How he loved that Jag!
He’d polish and shine
I’d always joke:
“When you’re finished, do mine!”
Nuthin’ it seemed the guy couldn’t fix
With somethin’ he’d pull out of his bag of tricks
None of us knows what lies 'round the bend
Today we miss Ocho
We all miss our friend
Did I know the man well?
Not in number of years
Still, well enough to share laughter and tears
None of us knows what lies 'round the bend
Today we miss Ocho
We all miss our friend
Happy Halloween my little (and not so little) creatures of the night...boo
© Ari Dane 2007
I’ve never seen a ghost
or got a message from the dead
I’ve never seen the future
when the Tarot cards were read
I’ve gone through life undaunted
Never haunted in my sleep
Never battled with a demon
or heard a banshee wail and weep
I’ve never met a ghoul
who was wracked with the desire
to suck upon my neck
like the Dracula vampire
I’ve yet to meet a witch
who might fill my heart with fright
or a man who changes to a wolf
when the full moon’s shining bright
Tho Edgar Allen Poe’s
my favorite bed time story
I’ve never witnessed anything
so bloody or so gory
I’ve never known the horror
or experienced the chill
of a Phantom of the Opera
or a house like Amityville
I’ve never known a mummy
or an ancient voodoo curse
“Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble”
is just a nonsense verse
I’ve never seen a poltergeist
who’s presence made me shrink
The only spirits I have known
came in a good stiff drink
Houdini hasn’t called me
neither has my uncle Fred
They’re either much too busy
or, when you’re dead,
It’s hard for me to buy these tales
My life is undramatic
I write my words deliberately
They’re never automatic...
just in case these guys are right
Those who claim that they’ve been through it
If the I.R.S. should audit me...
the devil made me do it!
Who killed the Ballona Creek ROCK PEOPLE?
Not those kind of guitar slingin' Rock People who write Rock Operas...
I mean, we're talking real rocks here!
I alternate my daily walks between Dotweiler Beach and Ballona Creek.
Joggers, cyclists, fishermen from the bridge spanning the Creek, low swooping pelicans, seals and sea lions following the sport fishing boats in and out of the adjacent Marina Channel are all part of the scene...
As has oft been said, "People sure do a lot of strange stuff"...One day in mid-walk I noticed something different. Someone or ones had, at the creeks' rocky edge, gone to an awful lot of trouble to place several rocks on top of each other to create a sort of crude yet natural sculpture. Not once. Dozens of times.
The effect was pretty cool and over the next few months I was kinda' tickled and amused to see the prolifiration of the Ballona Creek ROCK PEOPLE as they stretched for several thousand yards up the length of the creek. In a city where the usual public expression of art is to spray paint something, what a nice change of pace to see folks spontaneously get into a fun,and playfull simple artistic expression.
I even told myself little stories as I passed by them: How at night, when nobody was looking, they could walk and dance and make cold, icy love and that's where all the little pebbles came from...and...yesterday... when I was on my walk...
Oh, No!!!... This just can't be!!! ...They were knocked down and strewn about and returned to the creek-side rubble from which they had arisen.
SOMEBODY KILLED the Ballona Creek ROCK PEOPLE!!!
I mean...hey...maybe it was some sort of official Beach & Harbors reason or some naturalistic cult of efete art critics called the Mayor to complain about using creek rocks without a permit or something ...or,...more likely...some jerks just like stomping on a dream and can't stand for anyone else to enjoy something nice and creative...It's not news LA is a tough place...but...to kick down several hundred yards of creek-side delicately balanced rocks that form a several meters long assembly and display of ROCK PEOPLE...why...that's just mean and nasty for no good reason.
Sure wish Columbo was still around...
(Sing the blues, now...)
Today it was my birthday
Can you imagine that?
I guess I'm feeling older
It's cold, I need a hat...
I got the blues...
(one more time...you finish it...)
Dear One and All,
'twas not without regret
I had to make you wait
I still... procrastinate...
Pointed line, comedic barb
Tried and true material
Perhaps to wax poetic
How to say what has been said
Combinations and… mutations
Not too far from theme
In some rhyming scheme
Best, I guess, to shout it out
The thought is all it is about
Be it Hell
Be it Heaven
Have a GREAT
Two Thousand & Eleven!!!
What? ...You were expecting Hallmark?
Ari & Janet & Roxy Dane
Dear One & All,
OK...so I can see by the ol'TV that the weather pretty much sucks no matter where you live and so I don't realy expect much in the way of sympathy for the last few miserable, rainy beach days...gloomy...starin' out the window at a stretch of deserted beach and sullen, grey sea...got me thinkin'...
c. aridane 2010
As I pondered weak and weary
Thinkin’ about Old Tim Leary
Was there something he did know?
Shared between himself and Poe?
Other than a sense of dread
Other than they both are dead
Other than what’s plain to see
Psychosis and some LSD
Both can get the walls to wavin’
Roads to hell in need of pavin’
Don’t ask me, I ain’t no maven’
Go and ask the fuckin’ Raven!
This is the link to "Playa Kittens". Ari
This link to "Playa Kittens"
Dear One and All,
Roxy is looking at me like she wants to go for a walk but I don't really believe her since I just opened the patio door for her to go out and take care of biz and she just stared long and hard at the puppy deep puddles and opted to hold it...What a grey and gloomy day for our usual sunny CA...maybe we'll just play a little game of indoor catch and hope we don't destroy another lamp (but that's another story)...
Roxy sure loves her little soft leopard-colored squeak ball and all in all she's pretty good with it. Good...but not like Ripley. Ripley was incredible!
The Case of the Creaking Chair
© Ari Dane 2010
Want to go for a walk?
Personally, I never cared much for that old rocking chair and the way the damn thing creaks when you get out of it. For the life of me, I can’t remember how it came to be in our possession though it must have been at least three moves and twenty some years ago. I guess it’s the kind of thing you always say you’ll get rid of when you find the right thing to replace it with and then never end up finding, so you just sort of hold on to it till it becomes, as they say, part of the furniture in your own personal universe.
The frame was still good but the cushions and springs were shot long before we ever jerry-rigged some towels and rags for padding and covered the sorry affair with an eight dollar Mexican woven rug we picked up on Olvera Street in downtown LA. Didn’t really look like much but then again it didn’t look bad either, just sorta’ blended in with the rest of our, I suppose you might say, eclectic décor, which is a euphemistic way of saying it’s a bunch of weird stuff we like with one thing having nothing to do with the other, but somehow or other makes sense, if you know what I mean, and if you don’t, then you probably shop at Ethan Allen, not that there’s anything wrong with that. However, if you do shop at Ethan Allen, then your rocker probably doesn’t creak like mine does which becomes real pertinent later on in this story.
Anyway, like I said, I didn’t care for it near as much as did Ripley. He absolutely loved it and at times it seemed like he just lived in it. Curled up, happy as could be, dreaming his little doggie dreams. Oh, yes, you non-pet owners, they do dream. Those little front paws twitch with the rhythm of running a mountain trail or through a summertime meadow and their breathing fluctuates and sometimes you even see a smile upon their face.
He could have been a circus dog. Half Cairn Terrier like Toto from the Wizard of Oz and half Basset Hound, hence the name Ripley for, of course, Believe it or Not. Didn’t look like either one but definitely closer to the former than the latter and weighed in at just under sixteen pounds most of his adult life.
To say he was bright, affectionate and as loyal a companion one might hope for in the canine persuasion would not set him apart from any of his ilk you might have the pleasure of acquaintance of in your own experience. But, this little guy was special and some of his skills were worthy of comment, in particular, his athletic prowess with a bouncing blue rubber sphere.
In his prime he was a natural and marvel to behold and if parallels were to be drawn it would have to be with the likes of a Michael Jordan for, to quote some of my friends who engaged him on his own turf, “Ripley doesn’t play catch…Ripley has moves!!!”
For instance, if the ball were thrown just right over his shoulder, he would rise several feet in a floating motion, pluck the missile from thin air, execute a perfect back flip, gently place his prize on the tarmac and with laser precision, gently kiss the tip of the ball with his nose and roll it in the direction of your cupped hands as surely as if he were sinking an eight ball in the center pocket. Yeah, he had “moves” and was without question the master at his game which he would play incessantly and, even without a human partner, he would amuse himself for hours on end rolling and nosing that ball around.
Many’s the time I observed him planning and experimenting as he lined up his shots and executed various angle filled combinations across the slick, tiled kitchen floor. Again and again he would practice each move till he could pull it off with an unerring perfection. What do I know? Maybe in a prior life he was William Tell or Robinhood. If he was as proficient with a bow and arrow I would have confidently stood with my back to the tree and smiled as I placed the apple upon my own head. And they say dogs don’t have deductive reasoning. Bull. Anyone who says that never knew Ripley.
I’ll give you another few examples of my observations, like Raleigh, a white shepherd named for the hotel in the Catskill Mts. where I found her sitting on the front steps abandoned, along with her nine darker colored siblings, waiting for the local dog catcher to cart them off to the pound.
She was such a pretty little thing and the perfect pet, I thought, for my friend Lora Lee, who I felt sure would fall in love with her… but…didn’t… and so, Raleigh became ours. All, eventual ninety, white, fluffy, shedding pounds of her.
Raleigh’s spark of genius and claim to fame was a rather complicated game of her own invention involving perhaps ten or so doggie toys of bones, balls, tied rags and twisted rawhide. Noteworthy here is she had a specific hiding place for each item in her collection and would always return them when finished with her play. Who ever knew dogs could be neat?
With an obvious single mindedness, she would gather her treasures from beneath the couch, behind the drapes and between the cushions of the living room chairs and line them up in an exact order at the top of our split level flight of wooden stairs, and then… one by one…nudge them over to bounce and clatter to the landing below where she would bound after them, and…one by one, retrieve and return them to their assigned place only to repeat the process for sometimes what seemed like an eternity.
We were enthralled with her ingenuity…that is until the time she started to perform this little miracle at 4:00AM and we decided to curtail her Sir Isaac Newton experimentation. Still, I dare you to tell me she was not thinking and reasoning every bounce and clatter of the way!
And then there was Crispin, a character if ever there was one. He was supposed to be a Yorkie when, in what seemed like overnight, these long legs dropped out of his body kind of like a little furry stork and he topped out at twenty eight pounds and we exclaimed, Whoops! That ain’t no Yorkie! Matter of fact, he kind of looked a lot like Tramp from the Disney flick. But, by then we were more than attached and so he stayed around for about seventeen years, which is pretty decent in dog life expectancy.
Yeah, he was an independent little cuss who had an incredible attention span and more of a fascination with the working of any hand held tool than I ever did. Pliers, scissors, hammer, screwdriver, drill and bit, it didn’t matter. Work with anyone of them and his attention was rivited. He also could and would obey any command with the caveat being…if he wanted to… Like Ripley, Crispin also enjoyed a good game of catch …only thing was, if you threw it, or anything else for that matter, he figured if you threw it away you obviously didn’t want it, so… he’d never bring it back. Once, when he was a puppy, I tried to entice him to swim in a lake and he refused to dive in. In a last ditch effort, I threw a stick out over the waves and he fetched. From that point on he was a water puppy…but only if I threw the stick first… and… I’ll never forget the day we went fishing in a reservoir in up-state NY.
I parked off the side of the blacktop and unloaded the trunk as an excited and impatient Crispin darted ahead while I struggled with my fishing gear down the embankment through the dense forest, arriving at the rugged ten to fifteen foot escarpment overlooking the choppy water in time to see Crispin dragging what appeared to be a redwood in his mouth, drop it over the edge of the cliff with a splash great enough to alert any hookable fish in the county, and dive in after it!
Did he want to play? Did he want to swim? Was fetch and swimming part and parcel to his way of thinking even if it meant he had to throw the stick himself? As funny as it was to watch, whatever the answer, he knew what he wanted and acted accordingly.
The examples I have cited thus far , Ripley’s expertise with a ball and elevating it to an art form, Raleigh’s inventive cause and effect game, Crispin’s initiative in going for a swim, are all based on their natural instincts of hunting, gathering and retrieving. It is how they built on these attributes and applied their knowledge to problem solving that amazes me.
On another occasion which seems right out of a Lassie movie…In the mid-seventies my wife and I were living in a trailer, I won’t dignify it by calling it a mobile home, on the grounds of the Green Acres Hotel, formerly the Roxy, on a winding, dangerous stretch of two lane black top called route 52 in Loch Sheldrake NY, with a pretty shade of short-haired blonde with big brown eyes and floppy ears little Heinz 57 mixed breed girl puppy named Calev…which , in case you were wondering, is the Hebrew word for “dog”.
Calev had a friend named Rikki who belonged to the family who owned the resort. She was a very small German Shepherd and without question one of the brightest canines I’ve ever known. For one thing, she had street smarts. She understood what traffic was all about. A useful skill considering where we lived cars appeared from out of nowhere and zoomed by at high speed. You could see the intelligence in her eyes and demeanor. When you spoke to her you had the distinct feeling she not only understood what you said,but if she wanted to, she could hold up her end of the conversation.
Rikki was mostly a loner and outside of her immediate human family didn’t care for a lot of people or other dogs, for that matter. The exception was me and Calev. We had a connection. I remember how her family was surprised on the occasion she had a litter and would allow no one to venture near her off-spring. Yet, when they were less than a week old, she left them long enough to come to my trailer, bark at my door to get my attention, and then take my hand in her mouth to lead me to her house and the closet where her puppies awaited her return. Make of this what you will, but I know she wanted to show them off to me.
Unfortunately, the next time she came for me was on a tragic note. This time when I opened my door to her insistent bark I could tell from her tone and action it was a more urgent need. Once again, she took my hand in her mouth, but this time she led me down the long steep driveway to the highway and around the bend to where Calev had been struck by a car. I’m sorry to say there was no happy ending. With tears in my eyes and hoping against hope I rushed Calev to the vet, but it was too late. Still, in my book, Rikki will always be a hero. She recognized a problem and figured out the best solution was me.
Ripley, Crispin, Raleigh, Calev, Rikki, I loved them all. Each in their own way was special and each at one point or other displayed an unexpected flash of intelligence by utilizing deductive reasoning to solve a problem. How else would you explain their actions?
For those of you who do not have the desire or opportunity to share your lives with a pet, I feel a great deal is missed by their absence. Granted, they are not always convenient and it hurts so much when they depart, but hey, that’s the price of admission.
Gotta’ give it to him, Ripley was cool to the end. Yeah, in the last year or so he slowed down. His eyesight and hearing failed and he retired from his game. And, although he still had a good appetite for dinner and would rally for a short walk, it was a far cry from the five to twelve miles a day he ran with me on the local Southern California mountain trails. I’ll be the first to admit it was sad to watch him fade. When the end came it was peaceful. In the Vet’s waiting room, moments before his appointment, he took a deep breath, stiffened and was gone.
I don’t remember exactly when it was, but a few months before he died he stopped sleeping in our bed and moved into that chair…
It’s not that I don’t appreciate sunrise, but my inner clock plus a lifetime as an entertainer make me an inveterate night person. Every few years or so I steel my resolve to reverse this cycle but eventually and inexorably find myself adrift in my natural currents floating back to the vampire hours. Most nights I am to be found writing till one or two in the morning in my office adjacent to our living room and, through the always open door, in a direct line of sight with the rocker.
It was during that hour Ripley would wake from his sleep and within a few minutes of coming to himself, with the afore-mentioned creak, vacate the chair and head for the kitchen and doggie-door, return a few moments later, drink some water from his bowl, glance in our bedroom to reassure himself my wife and other dog, Cassidy, were still where he had last seen them, visit me for a brief pet and scratch behind the ears and then return to his chair and one final creak before settling down till daybreak.
It is now almost six months since Ripley passed.
Witnesses will attest that between one and two o’clock in the morning the chair creaks.
All explanations would be subjective.
I think it might have been in the Seth Speaks series of books by Jane Roberts when I first came across the concept of pets being fragment personalities. In other words, when a soul passes on to another level or existence but still wants to retain a bit of the material plane, it leaves behind a small piece of itself in the form of a domestic pet. I don’t know if I really believe that or not but it is a comforting thought and I’ve heard worse ideas. I could see doing that.Leaving just a bit of myself behind to keep tabs on things. Maybe that’s what people really mean when they say he or she is a dog or a cat person. Of course, where this leaves the folks who like hamsters and parakeets, I haven’t a clue.
(Here's a little video of our Puppy Pals. I hope James Taylor won't mind if I borrow one of his songs...)
©Ari Dane 2010
OLD JOKE: A hooker approaches a senior citizen and inquires if he would be interested in super sex and the old guy thinks for a moment and then replies, "I'll take the soup!"
It all started with my grandmother Bubbe's kreplachs. God knows what the ingredients were. I used to watch her prepare them and on occasion she would let me help her, but I honestly can't say what the combination was that she rolled into those little squares of dough, because every time I observed her it appeared to be a batch of different stuff, yet somehow it always came out tasting like hers and no one else’s. When she did stop to explain, she did so in Yiddish, of which I speak and understand but a bit, and the rest was lost in her brief rudimentary English phrases such as "a little bit of this and a little bit of that" and if you asked her, for instance, how much salt you should use, you would invariably get a response on the order of, "not too much".
It reminded me of a song I learned in summer camp:
Oh, Dunderbeck, oh, Dunderbeck
How could you be so mean?
To ever have invented
The sausage meat machine
The pussycats, the dogs and rats
Will never more be seen, for
They've all been ground to sausage meat
In Dunderbeck’s machine.
Then she'd take the stuffed kreplachs and deep fry them in chicken schmaltz and fill up a plate to be doled out into a bowl of chicken soup and, yes, for a few moments it was heaven on earth, to be topped only by her deep dish apple cake that was covered with at least two inches of granulated sugar. No wonder people in my family died young. Happy, but young. Trust me, you eat enough of this stuff, you drop like a stone. God bless Bubbe. The words "bran flakes" never crossed her lips...
And so it came to pass in the Sixties, as I wandered the streets of Manhattan in search of fame and fortune in general and a low priced meal in specific, I discovered Sam Wo's, a little hole-in-the-wall restaurant tucked neatly away in Chinatown where, for the price of one dollar, I could purchase the largest tureen imaginable of won ton soup, chock filled with enough good stuff to see me through another bone chilling New York winter’s day.
The aromatic warm broth of chicken and pork was enough to entice a dead man and yet it but set the culinary stage for the rest of the cast:
Slivers of Chinese barbequed roast pork swam through forests of deep green and ivory colored leaves of bok choy to join the flotilla of perfectly ringed scallions and, yes! The large pink, succulent shrimp bobbing in place called my name and echoed off the straw mushrooms and occasional mountain top of squid. Yet I say, these were but bit players, for the undisputed heavyweight champion and star of this magnificent creation was...the won ton:
Ground pork, diced shrimp, ginger root, water chestnuts, soy sauce, white pepper, encased in a thin dough, dropped into boiling water, floated, removed, drained and lovingly placed in said soup and, presto chango, miracles do happen, voila...the Chinese answer to Bubbe's kreplach!
Keep your minestrone! Keep your consomme! Keep your chowder, bouillabaisse, gumbo and gazpacho! There is but WON!!!
A decade later I was hooked. Four, five, maybe six bowls a week. I don't know, I lost count. All I can say is, it cost me a fortune, cookie...and now it was the mid-Seventies and I was married and we were living not in the city where I could jump on a subway any hour of the day or night and within a reasonable amount of time satisfy my burning desire, noooo...we were in the Catskills, and although won ton soup (granted not the primo stuff of Sam Wo but at least an acceptable facsimile thereof) was attainable at the Triangle Diner in Liberty, NY.
Now, this attainment was not obtained without a considerable effort, which usually entailed driving through a blizzard on winding, treacherous, mountain roads, and on one such night about 1:00 a.m., as the won ton fever consumed my entire being along with the realization that it was just too damn cold and miserable to even contemplate stepping outside, I turned to my wife and said, “you've got to learn how to make won ton soup, that's all there is to it,” and she said, “I cook everything else, if you want it so bad, you make it!” And I said, “O.K., I will...”
So, after researching the recipe in a Chinese cookbook, I reconnoitered the few supermarkets in our remote area and was surprised to find out they actually carried this stuff with the lone exception of pre-packaged won ton wrappers but I figured, what the hell, I've got everything else and anyway there was also a recipe for making the wrappers from scratch in the book and how hard could that be and so finally I was ready for my grand experiment.
It was perfect soup weather. The ground was covered with snow and the huge digital clock that blinked alternately time and temp in front of the bank in Monticello had not registered over fourteen degrees in the past month and a half.
I was damn near euphoric at the anticipation of honest-to-God, homemade-by-me won ton soup. So with cookbook and wok in hand, I kissed my wife goodbye who then paused as she headed for the door and her appointed rounds, and said, “I know you can make breakfast for yourself but this is real cooking. Follow the directions EXACTLY!!” To which I replied, “Hey! No problemo! It's in English. I read English. Just come back with a big appetite...”
The dogs’ attention was riveted as I whirled through the kitchen in a culinary ballet and even the fish in the aquarium seemed to be keeping their little fishy eyes on me and I felt good and had a sense of, at long last, being the master of my element and I was in control of the situation and I started to sing a really bad parody: You make sixteen TONS and whaddayaget...
O.K., let's see now, I've chopped, diced, shredded, ground, pummeled and reduced to microscopic fibers every substance that goes into this concoction and the broth made from turkey, chicken, and the pork bone from the roast is simmering nicely and the filling for the won tons made of pork, ginger, shrimp, white pepper, garlic, salt, sugar, and soy sauce is marinating and the bok choy, scallions, whole shrimp, slivers of chicken, and barbequed pork are all ready to go and now the only thing I have to do is make the dough for the wrappers and...
I placed the ball of dough upon the cutting board, picked up my trusty rolling pin and attacked with a vengeance, and the dough responded by ever so slightly flattening, spreading, and swallowing the little cutting board with no more effort than quicksand would devour a fallen antelope, and the flour was feeling its power and like Hitler with an eye on Poland advanced on the borders of the counter top and began to encroach on the citizens of the local population like the can opener and set of steak knives that disappeared into the black hole vortex that was ever growing and beginning to rumble as if it were expecting a sacrifice, and the dogs fled the room to leave their master to do battle with this Pillsbury Doughboy/demon from hell which, like the Blob, was growing bigger and more life-threatening by the moment and, Oh, NO! It was inching past the bottom drawers and about to launch into a slow motion cascade to the floor, and what could I do but dive headlong into its innermost depths and, with outstretched arms like one doomed to turn into a hot cross bun, I whirled in the air like a dervish clutching enough stretched dough that, if it were cloth, could be turned into a sail capable of powering a schooner in a regatta, and flopped with a plop upon the dining room table and the destruction was complete and total with every dog, fish, guitar case, knick knack, fireplace, crook, cranny, crevice, surface, and parakeet covered with varying density and viscosity of won ton wrapper flour and, yes, it was worth it because the soup was fantastic, but nevertheless Janet, upon observing this wake of destruction, exclaimed, “Why didn't you cut up the dough into smaller workable portions?” And I replied, “Because you said, and I quote, ‘Follow the directions EXACTLY!’...and the directions said, ’Take THE ball of dough...’”
If there is a heaven, Bubbe is laughing her ass off.
NO CHRISTMAS IN THIS HOUSE!
It was hot as hell and our little trailer located on the grounds of the Green Acres Hotel in Loch Sheldrake, N.Y. in the Catskill Mountains was sizzling in the August heat.
I had a long relationship with the owners of Green Acres, Cissie and Larry Blumberg, ever since I was a child and spent several summer vacations with my family at the resort, which was originally in Lake Huntington, N.Y. A fire leveled it and, hence, the new address. It was the early Seventies; Janet was employed as the head bookkeeper and I performed one show a week in exchange for our room and board, which was an equitable situation.
Equitable or not, it was hot as hell and my temper was not far below the surface when the TV started blaring, "Ronco! The perfect Christmas gift!!!" Are they fucking crazy or what? It’s three hundred million fucking degrees in here and some fucking asshole is trying to sell me some kind of fucking Christmas gift; get the fuck out of my face, I’m fucking melting here, no fucking way!!
I smashed my clenched fist down hard on the dining room table and hurled the nearest object at hand, which I think was the dog, at the TV and ranted and raved that under and I mean under no circumstance would I be sucked into this commercialization of a holiday that was so far away and that I really didn’t care too much about in the first place and, damn, it was hot and how dare anyone try to sell me anything when I’m about to melt and there would be no, and I mean no Christmas in this house!
Janet took this well, considering that I was depriving her of her last, most cherished childhood ritual.
It began one August. It was now Christmas Eve. We were seated at the "family table" in the spacious dining room of the resort. What with the candles, table wreath decorations, cutouts of Santa with elves and reindeer, and a beautiful tree, plus the snow falling gently on the tall pines outside the huge picture windows, the ambience was complete. The lights dimmed and, with a faint drum roll and a blast of trumpets, the dining room’s double doors parted and a candlelit procession of three hundred, elfin-cute, costumed senior citizen folk dancers filed by our table joyously singing a carol.
As I gazed over at my wife I observed that she was stoic, dispassionate, immovable...save for one small luminescent tear slowly coursing down her face.
So much for resolve. So much for logic. I took a deep breath, leaned over and whispered in Cissie’s ear to keep Janet busy for a while with a game of Scrabble and also to lend me the keys to her red Mustang as my car was in the shop.
It was a snowblown, icy, snaky seven mile stretch of mountain road to the crossroads in Liberty, N.Y. where the Triangle Diner (famous for its Chinese roast pork sandwiches), an Exxon station, Grossingers’ Hotel, and Sullivan’s department store converged. The snow was way past the gentle stage and was whipping up into a major storm...pretty, but dangerous. I remembered seeing Christmas trees at the Exxon. I hoped they hadn’t sold them all.
They still had some trees alright, but the smallest was about 18 feet tall and the largest looked more like a redwood. I hastily picked out and paid for one of the smaller ones and had the station manager, a real Don Knotts character, set it aside for me as I darted across the slippery highway and the holiday traffic to Sullivan’s.
I grabbed rope to secure the tree to the car, tinsel, lights, every decoration left on the shelves, a couple of presents...setting some sort of shopping record... paid the bill, returned to the storm and the highway and the traffic and retrieved my tree from the Don Knotts look-alike. I tied my tree to the top of the Mustang with all the skill I learned in the Boy Scouts, which I was soon to find out wasn’t much, and headed on back to Green Acres.
Those big, fat flakes were now coming down by the millions and, with the reflection of the headlights glancing off the white stuff, my visibility was about as good as Ray Charles’ in a closet. It would be some time before the plows got out and, especially because it wasn’t my car, I was taking those slick curves pretty slow.
I guess pretty slow wasn’t slow enough, for rounding the curve by the Brown’s Hotel, as the car turned left the tree made a break for it and took off to the right. With whatever joy I had been feeling rapidly evaporating, I edged the Mustang onto the shoulder of the highway as far as I dared without getting stuck.
The headlamps of a slow-moving approaching vehicle illuminated the immediate blackness. Peering through the swirling snowflakes revealed nothing but a few scattered green needles and twigs. Where the hell was my tree? It slowly dawned on me that the slow-moving approaching Cadillac was now stopped and the doors were being opened. Out stepped an old man bundled up in a scarf and overcoat and from the passenger side emerged a woman, obviously his wife, wearing enough exotic fur to qualify as a polar Eskimo.
The man was opening the hood of the Cadi. As I drew nearer I heard the sound of tortured metal cutting through the rush of the wind...a spluttering, gnashing, crunching, ripping sort of cacophony like a million dental bits gone crazy in an infected tooth. The poor guy was staring blankly into the remains of his more than expensive motor and yet all I could think was "hmm...so that’s where my tree is!" Anyway, most of it. Who would have believed that such a large tree could be crammed and jammed into such a small space, but there it was...bummer.
The old man was just standing there sort of trance-like with his mouth gone slack, and I imagine he might still be there today if his wife hadn’t whined, "Gee, Harry, you ruined the guy’s tree!"
Not knowing exactly how to react, I mumbled something about being sorry, produced my business card and ad-libbed something about not knowing specifically if my insurance covered just such an eventuality and retreated to the Mustang.
Shit! Now I needed another tree. The Don Knotts guy stared at me really weird as I bought another tree. The smaller ones having gone to a hopefully better fate than my last one, I was now in possession of a tree that would have satisfied the needs of Rockefeller Plaza. I stopped short of welding my new purchase to the roof of the Mustang, retraced my steps and made it back without further incident to Green Acres and our little trailer.
One small problem. The interior of the trailer from floor to ceiling measured 7½ feet. The tree was good for Jack & the Beanstalk. Undaunted, I grabbed my trusty saw and, though in the middle of a blizzard, worked up a sweat that Richard Simmons would have been proud of, then worked the tree through the door and placed it in its holder. "Boy, is she gonna be surprised," I chuckled.
Damn, that tree was big! It literally filled the living room with the effect being if you entered the trailer you entered the tree. I ditched the unused portion, scattered the telltale needles and made it down the snow-covered hill to the hotel.
Janet was finishing up her Scrabble game. With a wink and a grin, I slipped the Mustang keys back to Cissie. We said our goodbyes and trudged through the now knee-deep snow to our place.
I hung back just long enough for her to get to the door first. She opened it, stood for a moment in silence and then began to laugh...and laugh...and laugh!
O.K., so what do I know? I’m Jewish, we never had one. How was I supposed to know you don’t use the bottom half of the tree?!